[OPE-L:7153] Desai's _Revenge of Marx_

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sat May 11 2002 - 09:33:35 EDT

Re Riccardo's [7l52]:

I'll skip over your other questions and go directly to what we
both view as the "real issue now":

> In my view, Desai's book, though
> obliquely, put forward the real issue now. Marx thought that the
> 'natural' development of capitalism, including its tendency to
> globalization, creates its own grave-diggers, homogeneised and
> united. The end of XXth century shows the opposite: capital's
> accumulation going on, and the tendency to division winning over the
> tendency towards unification. This seems to me a much bigger problem
> than the transformation, even if this latter would have been
> perfectly resolved in the Master oeuvre.

Well, yes, the prospects for international working-class unity are
somewhat more important than debates around the 'transformation

Marx certainly held that capitalism creates its own  [potential]
gravediggers (the  working class), but what exactly were his claims
about how the  working class would become a) "homogenized" and
b) united?

On a),  it does  seem to me that he made the claim that over time,  complex
labor would become replaced to an increasing extent by simple labor
so in this sense there was some type of  'homogenization' process
suggested.  And I think that overall,  from a historical standpoint
(consider the factory system)  this has been an observable tendency.
Yet, I think he also clearly recognized that the process of class
homogenization would be an _incomplete_  and _uneven_  process --
indeed he  recognizes that the division of labour divides workers (as well
as other classes) into an "infinite fragmentation of interests and
positions"  in  the very last sentence of _Capital_ (VIII).

I think he tends to assume  in  _Capital_  -- as a *simplifying assumption*
--  the "collective labourer".  In this sense, workers as well as
capitalists are assumed to be wearing "character masks".   Yet, as the last
chapter of _Capital_ makes clear, this is  *only*  an assumption and
class  diversity is recognized as an essential part of "the question to be
answered next".

Of course, Marx as a revolutionary and an internationalist was very
well aware of all of the following class divisions, based on issues other
than skill,  since they existed in his own time as well as our own (the
following are not ranked in order of importance):

-- divisions between unionized and non-unionized workers;

-- divisions between employed workers and members of the IRA;

-- divisions among workers based on race, gender, nationality,
    religion, etc.;

-- regional differences among workers in terms of wages, benefits,
    and the cost-of-living;

--  divisions based on the presence or absence of trade union

-- divisions based on the presence or absence of class consciousness;

-- political divisions among the working class (including not only whether
     workers support bourgeois political parties and are reformist but also
    divisions among socialist and revolutionary groups and parties);

-- divisions among workers based on nationalism;

-- divisions among organized workers between the rank-and-file
    and the trade union 'leadership' (and the collaboration of trade union
     'leaders' with capitalists, e.g. "labor-management cooperation");

-- divisions internationally among workers based on different histories
    of class struggle and therefore:

* different levels of wages and benefits;
* different understandings of solidarity;
* different experiences in terms of militancy;
* different qualities of trade union and class consciousness;
* attachment to nationalism -- as a dividing force -- to a greater
  or lesser extent;
*attachment to religion -- as a dividing force -- to a greater or
  lesser extent;
*educational  and cultural differences among workers;
* different understandings of race, gender, ethnicity, etc.;
* different understandings of prospects for victory or failure based
   on understandings of past successes and failures.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

How these concrete differences are overcome, Marx is somewhat
vague about.

Certainly the image of the "expropriators are expropriated"  is
mechanistic and over-simplified if _only_ taken in the context of
Volume One of _Capital_.   I.e. class polarization, and even
immizerization, does not automatically translate into class unity
and gravedigging.  What is required -- but is *not* a consequence
of the accumulation of capital -- is for workers to bring about
working-class unity and then act as revolutionaries. This requires
working-class subjectivity. It requires that workers conceive of
themselves not as simple unity (the collective laborer) but
recognize their divisions and  succeed through self-activity (praxis;
learning-by-doing) of bringing about unity-in-diversity.

And I agree that Marx and Engels tended to gloss over some problems.
For example,  consider the famous line from _The Communist
Manifesto_: "you have nothing to lose but your chains".  Well,
workers know that they have something _more_ to lose than their
chains, e.g. they have their lives and the lives of their loved ones to
lose.  In the more advanced capitalist economies (this might relate
to David Y's concern about the "labour aristocracy")  workers also
know that they have their homes, cars, TVs, computers, etc. to lose.
(and, yes, workers attachment to their material possessions can form
an impediment to revolutionary action.)  So, even if they recognize
 that they have a "world to gain", they  also recognize that there is
more than "chains" that they can lose.

The real issue -- and I think you are correct about this -- is that
workers internationally are *not* become more united and therefore
the tendency to division is at least *conjuncturally* winning out over
the tendency to unity.  And, this process isn't going to be reversed
by Marxists just calling for international working-class solidarity
and unity.

Of course, there are some who might respond by pointing to
hopeful developments on the international scene where workers
are becoming increasingly militant and united. Unfortunately, one
could easily point to counter-developments which show on the
international level the opposite trend.  One might claim -- as some
Marxists have claimed -- that capitalism will be prone to ever greater
crisis, but:

a) capitalism has shown itself to be incredibly resilient and capable
of overcoming crisis (to a great extent because in a crisis they are
often more united as a class in opposition to the working class than
vice versa), and;

b) no matter 'how bad it gets' still requires the self-activity of the
working class and we have to remember that simply because workers
are attacked to a greater extent doesn't automatically mean that
they will fight back to a greater extent (e.g. consider the "concessions
movement" in the US during the 80's: rather than fighting back in
large numbers, workers -- largely betrayed by class collaborationist
and pragmatic trade union bureaucrats -- were forced into conceding

As trite as it may sound, though, I don't think that these questions can
be resolved theoretically -- they can only be resolved though praxis.
Yet, there is no reason to necessarily believe that they will be
necessarily favorably resolved through praxis.  We can't trust that there
will be a "happy ending".   We can't accept Marx's maxim that mankind
(sic) never sets itself problems that it can't solve. Even if that was true
in the past, it doesn't mean that it will continue to be true in the future.
Environmental destruction, for instance.  Nuclear destruction, for
instance (which remains a possibility despite the end of the "Cold War".)
At some point, it _may_ become a problem that can't be solved.
Rather than lose the things they own, capital _could_ destroy  the
world.  The  "negation of the negation"  _could_   be the annihilation
of all life on this planet.  Capital, rather than Marx,  might have its
Revenge.  We can not simply assume  that everything  will work out in
the  end and we can go fishing in the  morning, etc.  History is open ended.

Is there anyone out there who can convince me, and others, that
I am wrong?  I want to be wrong. I want a happy ending ... even though
I don't assume one.

In solidarity, Jerry

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